Valedictorian unhappy with school – part 2

Back on August 4th I posted a link to a graduation speech in which the valedictorian went over some major criticism of the current American education system, which I mostly whole-heartedly agreed with. After all, I’ve ranted about the education system on this blog quite a few times. I said that I couldn’t verify the speech though; it was only posted on the web from a second-hand source. However, I finally came across an actual recording of the speech, which seems to have been uploaded to YouTube by the speaker herself. So, for your enjoyment, or for your frustration with young people these days, here’s the speech:

Woohoo! Yes! Indeed! That’s right!

Do you agree with this speech?

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Animation Mentor progress

Week 8 (of 72) starts today! I’m pleased with my assignment this week, though of course I can still see areas that could use some tweaking, but you only have a week, so running out of time is inevitable. I’ll upload it to YouTube tonight or tomorrow. I was hoping to revise my pendulum assignment from last week, but never got to it. (I got sick that week so didn’t spend as much time on it.) Oh well.

The transforming room

Someone on Facebook posted a link to this very interesting video:

Of course, here in America, if you have enough money to afford designing and building something like that, then you probably have enough money to just buy a more spacious place, unless I suppose there’s some squished location that you really really want to live in. It would be awesome if someone opened up apartment buildings or hotels in which every room was like this; should get some good business just for the uniqueness of it. (Probably apartments; hotels would probably need too much maintenance.)


Scott · August 15, 2010 at 4:02 PM

That video, as accurate as it is from an end of high school perspective, is a bit hypocritical, because she obviously isn’t as she described herself in the speech.

Also, it’s probably the sole product of senioritis and would not have been given as a speech for a junior-level speech class.

Finally, I love watching the people sitting behind her… all of them administrators of the school… who are really uncomfortable listening to the criticism. Actually, it’s kind of strange, because all high schools have policies that commencement speeches need to be approved… so I’m not sure how this got past them.

S P Hannifin · August 15, 2010 at 4:45 PM

“because she obviously isn’t as she described herself in the speech” .. what do you mean?

“it’s probably the sole product of senioritis” … if the education system wasn’t so messed up, there wouldn’t be senioritis! Senioritis comes from seniors knowing how pointless their work is, and knowing they won’t have to do it for long…

Yeah, I was wondering about that last point, how it got approved, or if it did at all, which is why I was just a wee bit skeptical when I first read it and wanted a more direct source. Perhaps the administration is stupid, or perhaps they are just nice and fair. That some schools might block a speech like this would just be yet another problem with schools… “you can give a speech, but you can’t criticize the institution!” That would be awful, since society is kind of forcing you to be a part of it… it’s not like the Academy Awards or something…

LanthonyS · August 16, 2010 at 10:13 AM

Resentment of academia is the passion of those who fail at academia. Academia is a wonderful thing for which some people wouldn’t trade the world, and has produced most of our greatest thinkers — at least British academia did so from around 1820-1920… Therefore I disagree with her railing against academia itself (cf. 6:50 or so, in which she describes a few “very human jobs”, most of which are totally useless for building civilization as we know it, and one of which, “engineer”, is a product of academia, not artisticness). Listen a few seconds after that as well and she mentions “authoritarian ideologies of instructors” — by Jove, these are children doing the learning, and to let them decide their education is as stupid as letting them decide what to have for dinner. Unless you want a lot of candy, and a lot of pleasurable though utterly unconstructive, unuseful, curriculum. After the 7 minute mark, she gets into such a ridiculous and absurd tirade, eventually turning it into a badly-articulated and arbitrary link to the freedom to pursue the American dream, that I wonder if she ought to be a politician.

I do agree, however, that academia is a terrible educational tool for the masses, at least half of whom are not suited to it. The better alternate is not so clear, but we’ve all talked about it on this blog before. Perhaps if what are now called prestige schools in relation to the traditional academic schools were supplanted by academic schools in relation to life-skill schools, it would be fairer to the average population but retain the ability to educate the true academes who want to be academes. (One should also note that in the past there has been a huge correlation between succeeding in academia and being an excellent artist as well; it seems to be only in the last 70 years or so that the strain was really separated.)

In passing, I think you’d enjoy reading Neil Postman’s excellent graduation speech, which deals with somewhat the same themes in a wiser way.

LanthonyS · August 16, 2010 at 10:24 AM

(Excellent and relevant line from the above, which agrees with what you say:

“And I must tell you that you do not become an Athenian merely by attending school or accumulating academic degrees. …
the purpose of your having been at this university was to give you a glimpse of the Athenian way, to interest you in the Athenian way. We cannot know on this day how many of you will choose that way and how many will not.

My father-in-law was one of the most committed Athenians I have ever known, and he spent his entire adult life working as a dress cutter on Seventh Avenue in New York City. On the other hand, I know physicians, lawyers, and engineers who are Visigoths of unmistakable persuasion. And I must also tell you, as much in sorrow as in shame, that at some of our great universities, perhaps even this one, there are professors of whom we may fairly say they are closet Visigoths. And yet, you must not doubt for a moment that a school, after all, is essentially an Athenian idea.”)

S P Hannifin · August 16, 2010 at 4:34 PM

“Resentment of academia is the passion of those who fail at academia.” Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean anyone who resents academia has failed it. That’s like when people say “anyone who doesn’t like me, or this thing I have, is simply jealous!” It would make academia untouchable, any critique of it could be safely ignored because of the academic achievements of its source.

Nor would I say “academia has produced most of our greatest thinkers” … that’s a huge oversimplification of how academia works and how “great thinkers” achieve their historic position of greatness. There may be “great thinkers” who didn’t come from such academia, and there may be plenty who went through such academia and did not become “great,” so I wouldn’t give academia the credit for “producing great thinkers.” We might say “eating food has produced great thinkers” because all great thinkers ate food, and if they hadn’t, they would’ve died. (I can’t argue in absolutes here, though, because “great thinkers” is too vague a term, and we might disagree on what makes a thinker “great.”)

I don’t think the speaker, anywhere in the speech, speaks out against the entire idea of academia in general. I think she’s talking about the small subset of academia that is the American education system, and only up to the point of high school, since that’s all she’s experienced so far.

And certainly high schoolers are not children, and are perfectly capable of deciding what to have for dinner. And there are plenty of adults who make poor dieting decisions when it comes to eating dinner. I think the idea that children would always want to eat candy for dinner comes from candy being a delicious yet constantly regulated element of their diet. The reason adults tend not to want to eat candy for dinner comes more from understanding (from a set of memories) how such a meal would affect how they feel later that night and/or in the morning (and/or beyond), not from some outside source reminding them that such a meal would be bad.

Anyway, by high school, shouldn’t students be thinking for themselves? If the curriculum is truly important, what harm comes from allowing students to question it? By being allowed to ignore it, they should come to realize how important it is. If that never happens, the truth of its importance should be questioned by those who put forth the curriculum. But of course we don’t do that.

Anyway, even in high school (at least the one I went to), students *are* given some educational choices: what language to study, what class to take (art, music, psychology). The caveat of course is that you *must* do something, you can’t just leave school early. The point is that the overall curriculum itself isn’t completely restricted. So the question is: just how much do we let students choose?

After 7 minutes, I didn’t hear anything that I’d consider a tirade, nor anything about the “American dream” (although the phrase “the American dream” is so vague, I suppose it could be inferred almost anywhere the name “America” is used in describing a nice future). She just describes how good the future can be with a good education, cliche (though not necessarily untrue) statements almost all graduation speeches make at some point (the large bulk of most graduation speeches are completely constructed from such a cliche).

I wouldn’t say “academia is a terrible educational tool for the masses.” It’s a certain *system* of academia that is terrible for educating the masses. Academia by itself, like education, is neither good nor bad, proper or improper. It all depends on how it’s defined in practice, how people utilize it.

Thanks for the link! It is a nice speech. I think the quote you cite does sort of have to do with what I’m saying… although he says “the purpose of your having been at this university was to give you a glimpse of the Athenian way, to interest you in the Athenian way” … which, unfortunately, doesn’t seem true. I think most people go to a university because society has for the most part forced them to. Which isn’t to say that all students are, in the context of the speech, Visigoths. They may or may not be; when society doesn’t give you a choice, how can one know? School may be “an Athenian idea”, but certain school systems are certainly not. And I highly doubt “Plato, Aristotle, or Democritus would be quite at home in our class rooms.” I guess it depends on which class rooms, but for the most part that seems like a huge insult to them. I’m not sure when Neil Postman wrote the speech, but he seems to have a somewhat different idea of how universities work than me.

Anyway, going off on a tangent here… in the speech he gives five properties that Athenians find important: 1) Knowledge, and the pursuit of it, 2) language, and the precision and beauty of it, 3) tradition and social restraint and such, 4) public affairs and the improvement of public behavior (uh no, does that mean politics?) and 5) discipline, skill, and taste that are required to produce enduring art (whatever “enduring art” is).

I suppose I agree that these things are important, or at least worthy pursuits for those who have the time, but Postman is vague about how one would put these into practice, which would make way too many people consider themselves Athenian, especially since Visigoth is the only alternative. I don’t think the world is merely split into Athenians and Visigoths; I think many problems come about because we have a bunch of Athenians who just disagree with each other on how to do things like what traditions are worthy of upholding, what are worth changing, what art is good, what knowledge is worth pursuing, what societal changes are worth arguing about, etc. If the disagreements are large enough, the proportion of Athenians to Visigoths doesn’t matter much…

Thanks for the comment and the link!

S P Hannifin · August 16, 2010 at 4:35 PM

ha, that turned out a lot longer than I though it would be…

S P Hannifin · August 16, 2010 at 4:42 PM

On another side note, Postman’s books look quite interesting…

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